Can you imagine our beautiful planet becoming a “plastic planet”? In the BBC documentary film Blue Planet II, members of the producing team noted that plastic waste is ubiquitously floating in the sea, including fishing lines, plastic packages, and plastic bottles. Marine organisms can be trapped by plastic waste that is everywhere in the oceans, even in the deepest and most remote parts. So it is essential to carry out intensive studies of plastic waste. Large plastics can either be physically or chemically broken into fragments after having been in the water a long time, traveling long distances. Such fragments, coupled with ones that were released into seas as fine plastic particles (smaller than 5 mm), are collectively called microplastics.
Surface water trawling for floating microplastic collection on the Pearl River estuary in China. Inset pictures are pieces of microplastic (fragments, pellets, and lines) from the trawl. Credit: Lei Mai.
The following post is one of a series spotlighting research presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Rome, Italy (13-17 May 2018).
A guest post by Ana Marta Gonçalves, Nelson Abrantes, Alice Horton, and Claus Svendsen
Plastics are an indispensable component of our daily lives due to their wide applications. As a consequence of improper handling or disposal, plastics may become dispersed in terrestrial and aquatic (water and sediment) systems, with rivers potentially transporting microplastics (MPs) to marine systems. The accumulation of plastics in these systems constitutes an emerging scientific and societal issue due to their ubiquity, high persistence and potential to cause ecological effects.
A guest post by Francisca Fernandez-Piñas, Miguel Gonzalez-Pleiter, and Roberto Rosal
The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Rome, Italy (13-17 May 2018).
The use of plastic materials has been increasing since the mid-20th century to reach current production volumes of more than 300 million metric tons per year. The global flow of plastic materials is still linear, which means it is not “circular,” or a closed loop that results in sustainable re-use. From manufacturing to landfilling, more than 30% of plastic materials end up leaking into the environment in an uncontrolled manner. This is particularly evident in the aquatic environment where plastic debris has been detected in increasing amounts since the 1970s. Continue reading →
The following post is one of a series generated from research presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting in Brussels, Belgium (7-11 May 2017). Each post features the latest research findings from SETAC scientists on emerging topics of interest.
What are microplastics and why should we care about them?
Microplastics are pieces of plastic or polymer debris that are very small in size, ranging from a shard as narrow as the width of a hair to a piece as large as a marble. Microplastics include pieces of plastic that are broken down from larger items, such as single-use water bottles, or ‘microbeads’ that are added to certain soaps and exfoliators.
Even though microplastics are small, there are concerns they can cause serious damage. Animals that confuse microplastics for food can end up with internal lacerations, inflammation, and nutrient deficiency caused by eating too much inedible material. Microplastics are also widely spread across the globe—scientists calculated that up to 90% of marine birds have ingested microplastics.
Lugworm (Arenicola marina) casts, by Nick Veitch, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Lugworms (Arenicola marina) live in muddy sand – they’re a component of the food chain and fishermen look for them because they make great bait. Their presence is given away by the piles of sand (casts) deposited above the burrows in which they live. Each burrow has two openings at the surface. The worm draws sand into the burrow through one of the openings and, following digestion, expels the sand through the other opening, thus carrying out its ecosystem engineering duty – sediment turnover – across beaches on both sides of the North Atlantic. Continue reading →